from Ralph Raico’s “The Road to World War II” an excerpt from his 2010, Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal.
During the pre-armistice negotiations, Wilson insisted that the conditions of any armistice had to be such “as to make a renewal of hostilities on the part of Germany impossible.” Accordingly, the Germans surrendered their battle fleet and submarines, some 1,700 airplanes, 5,000 artillery, 30,000 machine guns, and other material, while the Allies occupied the Rhineland and the Rhine bridgeheads.5Germany was now defenseless, dependent on Wilson and the Allies keeping their word.
Yet the hunger blockade continued, and was even expanded, as the Allies gained control of the German Baltic coast and banned even fishing boats. The point was reached where the commander of the British army of occupation demanded of London that food be sent to the famished Germans. His troops could no longer stand the sight of hungry German children rummaging in the rubbish bins of the British camps for food. (See also “Starving a People into Submission, in the present volume.)6 Still, food was only allowed to enter Germany in March 1919, and the blockade of raw materials continued until the Germans signed the Treaty.
Early on in Paris, there were disquieting signs that the Allies were violating the terms of surrender. The German delegation was permitted to take no part in the deliberations. The Treaty, negotiated among the bickering victors — Wilson was so angry at one point that he temporarily withdrew — was drawn up and handed to the German delegates. Despite their outraged protests, they were finally forced to sign it, in a humiliating ceremony at the Palace of Versailles, under threat of the invasion of a now helpless Germany.
This wobbly start to the era of international reconciliation and eternal peace was made far worse by the provisions of the Treaty itself.
Germany was allowed an army of no more than 100,000 men, no planes, tanks, or submarines, while the whole left bank of the Rhine was permanently demilitarized. But this was a unilateral disarmament. No provision was made for the general disarmament (point 4 of the Fourteen Points) of which this was supposed to be the first step and which, in fact, never occurred. There was no “free, open-minded and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims” (point 5). Instead, Germany was stripped of its colonies in Africa and the Pacific, which were parceled out among the winners of the war. In that age of high imperialism, colonies were greatly, if mistakenly, valued, as indicated by the brutality with which Britain and France, as well as Germany, repressed revolts by the native peoples. Thus, the transfer of the German colonies was another source of grievance. In place of a peace with “no contributions or punitive damages,” the Treaty called for an unspecified amount in reparations. These were to cover the costs not only of damage to civilians but also of pensions and other military expenses. The sum eventually proposed was said to amount to more than the entire wealth of Germany, and the Germans were expected to keep on paying for many decades to come.
The Treaty of Versailles was not only designed to crush Germany into a tiny, powerless nation indebted to the Allied powers and their troops for decades, what the treaty did following the redrawing up of the German borders was its own holocaust that never gets any airtime.
Wilson had declared that national groups must be given “the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them without introducing new, or perpetuating old, elements of discord and antagonism.” At Paris, Italy was given the Brenner Pass as its northern frontier, placing nearly a quarter of a million Austrian Germans in the South Tyrol under Italian control. The German city of Memel was given to Lithuania, and the creation of the Polish Corridor to the Baltic and of the “Free City” of Danzig (under Polish control) affected another 1.5 million Germans. The Saar region was handed over to France for at least 15 years. Altogether some 13.5 million Germans were separated from the Reich.9 The worst cases of all were Austria and the Sudetenland.
In Austria, when the war ended, the Constituent Assembly that replaced the Habsburg monarchy voted unanimously for Anschluss or union with Germany; in plebiscites, the provinces of Salzburg and the Tyrol voted the same way, by 98 percent and 95 percent, respectively. But Anschluss was forbidden by the terms of the Treaty (as was the use of “German-Austria” as the name of the new country).10 The only grounds for this shameless violation of self-determination was that it would strengthen Germany — hardly what the victors had in mind.11
The Peace Conference established an entity called “Czechoslovakia,” a state that in the interwar period enjoyed the reputation of a gallant little democracy in the dark heart of Europe. In reality, it was another “prison-house of nations.”12 The Slovaks had been deceived into joining by promises of complete autonomy; even so, Czechs and Slovaks together represented only 65 percent of the population. In fact, the second largest national group was the Germans.13
Germans had inhabited the Sudetenland, a compact territory adjacent to Germany and Austria, since the Middle Ages. With the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, they wished to join what remained of Austria, or even Germany itself. This was vehemently opposed by Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Beneš, leaders of the well-organized Czech contingent at the conference and liberal darlings of the Allies. Evidently, though the Czechs had the right to secede from Austria-Hungary, the Germans had no right to secede from Czechoslovakia. Instead, the incorporation of the Sudetenland was dictated by economic and strategic considerations — and historical ones, as well. It seems that the integrity of the lands of the Crown of St. Wenceslaus — Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia — had to be preserved. No such concern, however, was shown at Paris for the integrity of the lands of the Crown of St. Stephen, the ancient Kingdom of Hungary.14 Finally, Masaryk and Beneš assured their patrons that the Sudeten Germans yearned to join the new west Slavic state. As Alfred Cobban commented wryly, “To avoid doubt, however, their views were not ascertained.”15
This is in no way surprising. The instrument of the plebiscite was employed when it could harm Germany. Thus, plebiscites were held to divide up areas that, if taken as a whole, might vote for union with Germany, e.g., Silesia. But the German request for a plebiscite in Alsace-Lorraine, which many French had left and many Germans entered after 1871, was turned down.16
In the new Czechoslovakia, Germans suffered government-sponsored discrimination in the ways typical of the statist order of Central Europe. They were disadvantaged in “land reform,” economic policy, the civil service, and education. The civil liberties of minority groups, including the Slovaks, were violated by laws criminalizing peaceful propaganda against the tightly centralized structure of the new state. Charges by the Germans that their rights under the minority-treaty were being infringed brought no relief.17
The protests of Germans within the boundaries of the new Poland resembled those in Czechoslovakia, except that the former were subjected to frequent mob violence.18 The Polish authorities, who looked on the German minority as potentially treasonous, proposed to eliminate it either through assimilation (unlikely) or coerced emigration. As one scholar has concluded, “Germans in Poland had ample justification for their complaints; their prospects for even medium-term survival were bleak.”19
On the Weimar Republic, Wikipedia had an interesting note:
The people of Germany blamed the Weimar Republic rather than their wartime leaders for the country’s defeat and for the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Weimar Germany fulfilled most of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles although it never completely met its disarmament requirements and eventually paid only a small portion of the war reparations (by twice restructuring its debt through the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan). Under the Locarno Treaties, Germany accepted the western borders of the republic but continued to dispute the eastern borders.